FOR OR AGAINST JESUS CHRIST?
A sermon preached at Rehoboth Chapel, Coventry, on May 24,1981
“For he that is not against us is on our part”. Mk. 9.40.
Jesus here, as so often in His teaching, is drawing a line through the midst of those who heard Him and knew of Him. He is saying that His coming into the world and His preaching will inevitably cause a separation, a division, and that division is between those who are on His side and those who are on the devil’s side. For instance, in Matthew 12, reading from verse 22 – “Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb; and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said. This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad”.
That is the first thing that I want to make very clear, that the Lord Jesus Christ saw men, as they listened to Him and knew of Him, divided into two groups – those who were for Him and those who were against Him. I believe that Jesus saw mankind divided into the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Now, we cannot always see that, and certainly we cannot see it infallibly; we can only see and understand it partially. We are not the final judges and should be very thankful that we are not. But the truth is there. Jesus made such a division.
Jude, in verse 4, was evidently troubled because some who belonged to Satan’s kingdom had got in amongst the church, which is representative of the kingdom of God. If ever one is to see the kingdom of God, surely it is in the church, but Jude was faced with the problem that these false brethren had crept in unawares and, in
fact, the kingdom of Satan had got in amongst those who belonged to the kingdom of God. And that is why Jude had to exhort believers to contend in that earnest way for the faith once delivered to the saints. One thing that Jude was not doing – and I emphasize this very strongly – Jude was not exhorting believers to contend with believers; he was exhorting believers to contend for the faith against ungodly men!
It is a cause of deep perplexity to me, when I read the New Testament and find that the picture I see there, clearly drawn for us, is one that is so very different to the picture which I see around me today. And by that I mean that in the New Testament I find the Lord Jesus teaching, and the disciples teaching about the true church -that is, all who belong to Jesus Christ, the whole number of the elect people at that time; the true, spiritually minded, believing people who are united to Christ by a living faith, who have truly repented, who have been converted, who have been added to the church -I see those people on one hand, and I see on the other hand the unbelievers, those who reject the teaching of Christ and the apostles, and so on. It is true that in the New Testament, believers were separated by distance, they met together in different places, and for instance in Asia there were seven quite distinct churches established in those seven cities of Asia yet they were all viewed as the body of Christ, the true church of Jesus Christ.
Obviously in the New Testament the situation is very, very different from the one we see today, because in any one district or locality there was only one church, there was only one local church! At Ephesus, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and so on. The Apostle Paul writes to the believers at Rome, he writes to the church at Corinth, or at Ephesus, and he addresses himself to a quite recognizable group of people forming the church in a particular place. Clearly, historically we have inherited a situation which is markedly different from that in the New Testament.
I also find in the New Testament that within local churches say, at Corinth, or in Galatia, there were differences, there were times of strain and difficulty, there were those who were trying to introduce false doctrine into those churches – indeed there were some who those churches were exhorted to reject. Paul is very emphatic in writing to the Galatians that if anyone came, bringing “another gospel which was not another”, then that person was to be rejected. But I see still one recognizable Christian church in any one area or locality, even though those churches were sometimes greatly strained by difficulties within themselves. I suppose the saddest illustration of all is the church at Corinth, and Paul addresses himself to the spirit that prevailed in that church. He says “Now this I say that every one of you saith I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I
of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” And yet though there were such deep underlying divisions in the church at Corinth, Paul addresses himself at the beginning of the chapter “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”.
You will readily see then that the situation we inherit is one that is very different from that which we see in the New Testament. What can we say about this sad situation? Well, before we get overwhelmed by the problems – and they are great – we need to look again very carefully at what the Bible does teach, what it really does teach about the church of Jesus Christ on earth. I believe that in every generation God is calling his believing people back; back to the word of God; back to the pattern which He himself has set in the word of God.
Now this question of unity has been a concern between churches and between denominations, for a long time. It has been a concern amongst people who have long since forsaken the gospel. It is a concern amongst those whose attachment to Christ is less than nominal, because they have already denied Him as the Son of God, and yet they are concerned about their divisions. They have inherited a historical situation, and they say “Well, here we are, we are in different places, we are in different churches, we are in different denominations, we must do something about this”. And so we have the rise of the modern ecumenical movement. And basic to that movement is a desire to see divisions between those who call themselves Christians brought to an end. Now we may, and I do most certainly reject the way that they have taken. The way they have taken is simply to say that we must overlook the differences and pretend that they are not there or that they are not important, and express ourselves in such a vague and indecisive way that people cannot divide. I may generalize, and the details are perhaps different in some cases, but generally speaking this is what has in fact happened – that there are people who call themselves Christians who have denied the true deity of Christ, who have even denied the true sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross, who have denied the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, who have denied a Christ who is a presently living Saviour; and these people are all embraced as being part of this one great Christian movement. Now, clearly, the words of Jude and the words of many other of the writers of the New Testament, reject such a spirit. We do need earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and Jude’s words mean that the faith can be expressed, that we can know what the faith is, because it was once delivered to the
saints. It is something which can be expressed clearly and plainly, and the expression of it is inevitably going to cause division, and Jude was facing that problem – indeed he was forcing it upon the church of his day, that they should contend very strongly against those who were teaching things which destroyed the gospel.
However strongly we speak against the mistakes and sins – and they are sins – of many who are involved in the modern ecumenical govement which tolerates so many evils, we too must face the same
problem, we too must face what the Bible teaches. This is not easy, but we must face what the Bible teaches, we must seek from the
scriptures that clear declaration of what is the faith. We must then, in our hearts by the Spirit of God, be so convinced of its importance and of its truth that we are willing to contend for it, and that we are willing to suffer the consequences of that contention. But all the while we must remember that in the New Testament you do not find the present pattern of a multitude of denominations. Denominations are certainly a historical fact, but there is nothing in the Bible that I can find about denominations. You may think that is very sweeping thing to say, but having said it I will repeat it, that I cannot find in the New Testament anything about denominations, in fact the verses that I have read in Mark and Matthew really tell me that there are but two denominations. “He that is not against us is on our part”. Now, in that verse there are two denominations, there are those who are against us, says Jesus, and there are those who are
on our part. Again, there is exactly the same thing in Matthew 12 and verse 30 – “He that is not with me is against me”. There you have two denominations – “those who are with me”, and “those who are against me”. Jesus says “He that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad”. He who is not concerned to gather with Christ is scattering abroad. Again there are two denominations, the gatherers and the scatterers. You say “Well, that is far too simple minded. You have really got to face the facts. You have got to face the facts as they really are”. Yes, we have, but we have got to face the facts as they really are in the light of the Bible as it really is, not as we think it ought to be, or think it was. As it really IS!
Let us go on a little further and look into the Epistle to the Ephesians. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus”, and in chapter 4 he exhorts them in this way, “I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called”. I do not need to emphasize again what Paul has been saying in the earlier part of this epistle. He has very, very clearly shown who these people are, what God has done for them; he has outlined their experience of the saving grace of God, he has outlined their beliefs as they are taught by the Spirit of God – he has in fact shown us what their calling was –
their vocation, their Christian calling. Paul also is speaking of two denominations, there are those who are in Christ and those who are not; there are those who have believed in His name, and there are those who have not; there are those who have been quickened by His Spirit, and those who have not, and he is addressing those who have believed and been quickened, and he exhorts them to be “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. He tells them quite clearly that they are possessors of a very sacred privilege. As they have been quickened by the Spirit of God, as they bear the mark of divine choice, and the seal of God rests upon them, they enjoy the privilege of unity in the Spirit. He does not exhort them to manufacture and produce this unity, he exhorts them to keep it because it is what they have already been given; “Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
Often when thinking of this chapter I have been concerned with the situation within our own church and congregation here – and rightly so, because Paul was addressing the “church at Ephesus”. But I believe that these words have a far more extensive application. He says “there is one body”. “Yes” people say today, “there is one body, there is that mystical body of Christ on earth; there are all those true believers who are one in Christ here on earth. There is one body”. But, can we say that and then go on without the least qualm of conscience to the fact that that one body is scattered in pieces, or at least if it is not scattered in pieces, it seems as though one part of it has very little concern about the other. And I think sometimes believers in churches are so overwhelmed by the difficulties of endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit amongst themselves that they never can look any further than their own borders. They say, “Well, we have got problems enough at home, let’s not deal with the greater problem of our relationship with others”. But Paul does not hesitate to say “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all”.
Some may say this problem is impossible to deal with. We cannot change history; we have inherited a situation, we cannot do anything about it”. Is that true? If that is true then there would never have been a Reformation! People would have said “Well, look at the Roman Catholic organization as it is today. Its tremendous power, and its tremendous riches, and its influence amongst kings and leaders of nations. Anyone who stands against the power of the Church of Rome is immediately crushed; we might as well go along with it”. And Luther had to stand almost alone, at east he must have felt to be alone, against the might of the
overwhelming, monolithic Church of Rome of his day. And thence sprang the glorious Reformation. So, what does that teach us? It teaches us that one man saw that something that was generally accepted throughout the whole of the professing church of his day, was wrong, and he was willing to stand alone against that.
Now, is it right, or is it wrong, that those who are one by the Spirit of Christ being given to them by the saving work of Jesus Christ in their souls, should be divided? The Bible says “Is Christ divided?” Someone else will say that the difficulties are too great. Well, they are certainly too great for me to solve. The difficulties are great, but they are not too great for God to deal with. If God by His Word is calling us, and He is calling us, to live according to His Word, and in the spirit of His Word, then I believe He will give us strength so to live. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all”.
Immediately the apostle goes on to answer some of the questions that you may have already in your minds. You see, within the church at Ephesus, and within any church, there is going to be a wide diversity. Now that does not mean that there are going to be believers and unbelievers within one church. The Bible never tolerates that, but it does tell us that there is going to be a wide diversity within one church. “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men”. There was a wide diversity of the graces, the gifts which God gave in the early church. He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, and this was for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man. Now, it seems to me, if I understand that verse rightly, that the direction of the church at Ephesus was towards a greater, deeper sense and experience of the unity of the faith. They were one in Christ, they were one in the work of the Spirit but, because they were sinners, because they were poor, fallible sinners, with limited knowledge and limited understanding, there were difficulties. And so God gave men amongst them with abilities to teach and to preach and the whole direction of their teaching and their preaching was this, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. Some were being tossed about with winds of doctrine, some were deceived by cunning and crafty men who had been laying in wait to deceive them, but he says “Speaking the truth in love may grow up into Him in all things which is the head even Christ, from whom the body, fitly joined together and
compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love”. This was one of the great spiritual occupations of the believers at Ephesus, and one of the great occupations of the preachers and teachers at Ephesus was to guide people in this direction, to edify people in such a way that they became more consciously, more truly, a body welded and joined together.
Now is there not a danger that we simply accept things as they are and as they have been for years and years and years, and assume that we are not really to take passages like this with the seriousness with which Paul intended the Ephesians to take them? Jesus said ‘He that is not against us is on our part”. Let us look back at this verse again. John answered him saying “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name and he followeth not us”. Now here was John’s perplexity. There they are receiving their commission from Christ Jesus Himself. They had gone out preaching and teaching and healing, and they had been given special power by Jesus to heal and to cast out devils, and at that time in human history there seems to have been a tremendous outburst of the work of Satan, and it is not surprising, because Christ Himself was on earth, and at that time these men had received their commission in this special way from Jesus Christ. They had to go back to Him and report to Him what had happened as they went about preaching and teaching. They felt to be right, and they were, they had been sent by the Lord, they had been given these gifts by God, they were doing the will of heir Master – in that sense they were right. Well, they came across his man who is casting out devils. Now, he is not doing it in the name of Beelzebub, this man is not invoking the power of the devil to turn out the devil. Jesus explains in Matthew, that is impossible, that would be the devil’s kingdom divided against itself. This man had power to cast out devils, and what is more he did it in the name of Jesus. To that extent this man owed a real allegiance to Jesus Christ. Now, many have argued whether the man was right or wrong on this matter, whether he followed with the disciples or not. Some said he ought to have followed the disciples. I don’t enter into that argument. The facts of the matter are that he had power to cast out devils and he did it in the name of Jesus. The difference was that “he followed not us”. John is rightly jealous for the honour of his master, and in that sense he is rightly jealous of the commission that the Master had given him, and he is troubled, he is troubled by what appears to be a lack of unity – that is right as well. He feels this man ought to come and be one of the disciples, and cast in his lot with the master, in this very open and definite way. Why should he be working on his own like this? Why is he not more closely identified
with the Master like we are? “He followeth not us, and we forbad him because he followeth not us”. John is very zealous, you see -and zeal is good if it is rightly directed – and so John, in his zeal, forbids him to go on doing what he is doing because “he followeth not us”. Now was John right? Was John’s zeal rightly directed? Jesus said “Forbid him not. For there is no man that shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me”. It is possible. There were those who did miracles in Christ’s name who eventually denied him. The mere fact that a man has miraculous powers does not prove him to be a true child of God. Most people who had miraculous powers were children of God, but not all. No, the Lord says “There is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me”. So Jesus is really saying to John “It is my will that there shall be this kind of diversity. I am not commanding that this man should be brought in with my immediate disciples in the way that you have been. He is doing My will. He is casting out devils in My name. His concern is for the kingdom of God, and he is against the kingdom of the wicked one”. “For he that is not against us is on our part”.
I like the comment of Matthew Henry on this verse. He says “Thus apt are we to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all who do not follow Him with us, and that they do nothing well who do not just as we do”. Isn’t that what the disciples were saying? “He is not following with us – there is something wrong. We are very suspicious, so we say ‘Stop it’. We forbid him. We are certainly not going to encourage him, we are not going to help him in any way at all. We forbad him”. Jesus says “Forbid him not”. The disciples were saying “Well, he is not doing things the way we do it, he cannot be right because he is not doing it the way that the Lord has told us to do it”. Jesus says “Forbid him not”. For there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you he shall not lose his reward”.
Well, I realize that there is much, much more that could be said on this subject. You may feel that I reach no definite conclusion. I hope that one conclusion will be this, that it is our sincere desire to see the church on earth in the condition which is depicted clearly in the New Testament. I hope that in spite of the difficulties that we are conscious of, the apparently insuperable differences that there are within so called Christendom today, that we can pray to God to lead His church and His people on to that condition which Paul describes in Ephesians 4:13 “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. And I believe that
those who are thoughtful and prayerful must give themselves to this consideration – what are those things which sadly but necessarily force division between those who name the name of Christ? There are some things. What are those things which ought not to force division between those who name the name of Christ? You see, John was trying to force a division. “We forbad him” he says. “We are saying ‘Look, we are the followers of the Master, and if you do not follow with us you cannot be right. You cannot be a follower of he Master'”. Now, the Lord was teaching that that was not a right spirit, so we have to ask what are those things which perhaps historically have forced divisions in the professing Christian church which ought not to have done, and which ought not to do so today.
Now I have not resolved these questions, I have many thoughts and they have been thoughts stretching back over years. They have been thoughts that have often come out of an anguished spirit. I wish I knew the answers. I can see some of the answers, and I believe one of the great answers is this, that there is going to be, by he grace of God, a new unity in a complete spiritual brokenness. Let me illustrate it. Paul, in Ephesians 4:2 says that we are to walk ‘with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love”. And we can go back into the Old Testament, into the prophecy of Jeremiah, ch. 50, and we shall find the same unity prophesied there, ch. 50 and v. 4 “In those days and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping; they shall go, and seek the Lord their God”. There had been a historic division between Israel and Judah, and in prophecy these prophets used vivid illustrations to teach lessons, and the most vivid illustration of a new unity surely was the re-uniting of Israel and Judah. That, to the prophet, seemed one of the most glorious ways in which this unity could be demonstrated, and so in the language of prophecy he puts it like that “The children of Israel shall come and the children of Judah together”, not apart, not suspicious of each other, not divided on fundamental issues, “They shall come together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying. Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place”. Isaiah has a similar way of expressing his truth in chapter 11, again the language of prophecy, v. 12, “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart,
and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim”. There again, Isaiah is given a vision of a new unity, after centuries of division, after centuries of separation, after centuries of bitterness. Friends, is that what God is calling true believers to? I emphasize that – true believers; not those who have denied the faith, not those who are devoid of the gracious Spirit’s work in their lives, not those who are Christian in name only, but those who the New Testament describes as being the children of God, the family of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the living God, the dwelling place of the Spirit of the living God. Is this not what the New Testament is calling believers towards? I find this very disturbing, very uncomfortable, very difficult. It would be much easier for me to settle down in my own little corner, surrounding myself with my own particular friends, and simply shut my eyes to the problems and difficulties, and say “Well, this church has gone on like this for 124 years, surely it will go on like this for the next 124 years. God has blessed His church here in the past, He will bless it in the future”. Friends, God will not bless any church which turns its back upon His Word, He will not bless any church which is unconcerned about the things that He is concerned about.
J. C. Ryle, many years ago, spoke like this – and he was speaking about the leading features of true and evangelical Christianity – he says this true and evangelical Christianity “stresses the absolute supremacy of the Holy Scriptures. Its leading features are the depth and the prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption. The paramount importance it attaches to the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. The high place it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. The importance it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Spirit in the life of men”.
I ask you to ponder prayerfully, these serious questions of what it is that necessarily, for truth’s sake, for Christ’s sake, divides those who name the name of Christ, and what are those things which ought not to divide those who name the name of Christ. Again, one writer in America was facing this question. He was asked how far one could go in this matter of seeking true unity. He says “I answer -you seek it with all communions which retain these features which are marks of a visible church. The Word, the ministry, and the ordinances of Christ, even to that degree which is fundamental to the great end of the church, the great purpose of the church – the redemption of souls. Do you ask again who it is to decide in a particular case which doctrines and ordinances are essential to the being of a visible church, I reply, each communion must, as far as its intercourse with others goes, decide for itself. If it decides too
strictly and refuses to recognize some whom the Scriptures recognize, this is their error”. Now, I think I am not the only one whose mind is deeply exercised by questions of this sort. Some have said, “We are not a sect”. Well, it is statements like this that cause me deep spiritual concern. If we are not a sect, then we are not to live as though we were. As a church, we are not to behave as though we were part of a sect and, if anyone is perplexed as to what a sect is, this is the dictionary definition – “A body of persons separated from others in virtue of some special doctrines held in variance with the parent body. Followers of a religious leader. A party or a faction”.
These are questions which are profoundly deep. Some may feel that it would be wise not even to raise them in a public way because they are so difficult. I realize that this area is one of extreme difficulty; I realize that apart from the grace of God even raising questions like this could cause more division in the end, but I hope and pray that it will not be like that because the Lord says “He that is not against us is on our part”. And Paul says “I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called”. And I, personally, feel in my own heart a spiritual union to those who have this one Lord as their Lord, this one faith as their faith, this one baptism as their baptism, this one God as their God and Father, and I hope you do as well. Amen.